This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
31 Jul 1992: Meiring, Kobus
POM Mr Meiring, I just glanced at the transcript of our last interview before I came over and we had started talking about Inkathagate and how Inkathagate had burst in about July/early August last year and you mentioned the importance of trustworthiness and to start negotiations, each party having to get around a table and each party to look each other in the eye. But you pointed to the negotiations about the Peace Accord that were going on at the time as being something positive and indeed that Peace Accord was signed in September with great ceremony and it's now almost one year since it has gone into effect and the violence is worse than ever. What happened? Why did it not work?
KM Yes, I must say it all started off in wonderful fashion. We got together in the Carlton Hotel and the four Administrators were there too and we also signed it. In fact in my waiting room there is a copy of the Accord that I signed on behalf of the Cape Province and that was wonderful and that certainly opened the way to CODESA. The first session of CODESA took place towards the end of December just before the summer holidays and the committees met right through the beginning of the year, but then something went wrong and the question is what went wrong. If I give you my idea it is essentially my personal idea.
I personally think CODESA was a good thing up to a point but I really doubt whether through CODESA you can really find solutions. CODESA was a very good way of getting people together so that they can see each other as ordinary human beings and not tigers or whatever, but I have my doubts about whether it is possible to find a solution, a constitutional solution with 200 people sitting together in one big conference hall. I don't think it is possible. They will probably have to find another way of getting together in a small way. It's going to be much easier for ten people around a table to sort out.
POM You are not the first person who has said that to me and you're not the first person from your own side so to speak. There is beginning to be a widespread acknowledgement of the fact that CODESA was unwieldy.
KM It was a good thing for its time. The second problem, and that's also really a personal view, but I read that in the papers every day, and that is that CODESA went a little too fast for the ANC and within their own ranks they had serious divisions as to what can be done and what should be done. That is quite clear that there are divisions. You have the Mbekis who are very keen to talk, to negotiate, to get settlements and I think I've told you before I know him quite well and I like him very much and I would have no problem whatsoever as to serve with him, serve under him. I think he is a very balanced person. But then you have on the other extreme people like Hani and the SACP alliance crowd and I certainly got the impression, I didn't serve on CODESA, I just speak from what I see and what I hear, they certainly didn't like what was culminating at CODESA and then you have the middle group like Mr Mandela himself whose main task is really to keep the people together. I get the impression that it is fluctuating all the time. The problem at CODESA was certainly a victory for the more radical group and people like Mbeki certainly lost. At the moment, again, I get the impression listening to Mr Mandela this week when he talks about the mass action, he is on this issue leaning again almost more towards the more conservative. While you have the big negotiating group divided amongst themselves it's going to be very difficult to find solutions.
POM Let me follow up on CODESA, then I want to go back to the National Peace Agreement. Were you surprised when the ANC offered to provide a 75% veto threshold for a Bill of Rights and 70% threshold for the inclusion of items in the constitution, given the fact that most opinion surveys show that the government and its allies could put together at least a vote of 30%?
KM Yes I was surprised. My reaction was, and I must again reiterate that I look at it from the sidelines, I was on the one hand surprised and on the other hand a little bit disappointed that the government didn't immediately positively look at it. For the moment I was tempted to look at this almost in the idiom of the Tiger. That was the name of a British ship on which Ian Smith had his discussions with the British Government 15 years ago on the Rhodesian situation. That was years after UDI and things were tense and there were discussions which led to the discussions on the (settlement) if I remember correctly. But there were these meetings with, I think it was Harold Wilson, on the Tiger and there was another ship, Fearless I think, and I thought and I think history proved that if Smith at that stage agreed to the offers at that stage things would have turned out much better for him but he didn't want to sign and for the moment when this happened I thought, "Isn't this our Tiger or our Fearless?" I must immediately add to that, that that was a first reaction before I really had the details and if I look at the details again now where those figures were quoted of 75% and 70% but then after six months if we still didn't get to anything it would revert back to a simple majority.
POM But I would have thought that the government would have said, "We'll accept 70% and we'll negotiate the rest." In other words. "We'll accept that, we'll come down from our 75% to 70%", because Mr de Klerk in fact came back a couple of weeks later and accepted the 70% threshold.
KM Well on that score, on the detail I'm not so clued up. The fact of the matter is I think that was the start of the problem within the ANC. There were many people within the ranks of the ANC who felt that that 'almost' agreement was not to their liking in any case so they will just have to get back to square one and start negotiating again.
POM From people in the ANC that I have talked to there is across the board agreement that had the government accepted the offer that the leadership would have had a real problem in selling it to their own people. It was kind of being referred to as the option of a sell-out.
Some people have suggested to me that when Mr de Klerk decided to hold a referendum that the ANC understood the need for Mr de Klerk to be able to consolidate his constituency and to deal with the right, so even though there was going to be another election for whites only they basically kept their mouths shut or even encouraged people to vote 'Yes'. But they gave him the latitude to do what they felt he needed to do.
KM You're right there. Even white ANCs voted yes.
POM On the other hand I get the impression from people that Mr de Klerk is not being as understanding of Mr Mandela's position regarding mass action, that it is a necessary thing that he must take his constituency through in order to consolidate it or perhaps move it on to the next stage of negotiations. What's your own feeling about this whole mass action side of the equation?
KM My personal reaction is really twofold. On the one hand I have no problem with mass action as long as it is peaceful, that is point number one. Point number two, I feel so sorry for those thousands and thousands of people who are really intimidated and I want to talk to you about the intimidation. They are intimidated not to work and just lose money all the time in a country where there is so much unemployment and where people are really starving of hunger. So I understand if they want to consolidate their own powers and their people, they must use a format to do that. I'm just sad that they have to do it that way. But if they have to do it that way, OK let them do it as long as it is peaceful.
But I want to talk to you about the intimidation just for the moment. We've had, two and a half years ago, and I think we talked about that then, we had serious hospital strikes in the Cape two and a half years ago. It started here and for three weeks we were fighting these people in the sense that we tried to get our hospitals, keep them open, keep them going, to try and get labour, voluntary labour to carry on and we managed to do that but it was really a no-win situation. And then after three weeks a friend of mine who was concerned came to see me and he said, "Listen, I've watched this from outside, nobody is going to win. Unless you take the initiative and get the people together it's not going to work." So he managed to get us together and we talked for three days and we managed to solve the problem. It proved for me two and a half years ago that that's the only way to solve that problem and any problem is to talk and to negotiate.
And then two months ago the same thing started again but it started in the Transvaal and the Free State and it also came here. In the Transvaal they took a very tough line. They really took a tough line and they fired the people. When it got here we said to ourselves, "Last time after weeks we managed to solve it. The only way we are going to solve it this time is just to continue where we ended off last time." So instead of doing what the other provinces did in firing these people, we called them in, we started negotiating with them and we put our cards on the table and we said to them, "Listen, on that problem and that problem we really can't do anything. I'm sorry." As you understand our situation the provinces have certain powers but they are limited powers. I cannot, for instance, decide on the wage of General Assistant. That is done by the Commission for Administration. But there are other things that we can look at and we look at them very sympathetically. But the fact is we gave them a hearing, we gave them an open door and it worked. We never fired anybody. We certainly applied the policy of no work no pay and they understood that from the very first day, but in the other provinces they fired them and they appointed other people in their place, because you must understand there is a lot of unemployment. There are a lot of other people who are keen to get a job, not worrying what the wage is really. But we have done comparative studies in our province as far as hospitals are concerned. They are certainly still problems but not serious, while in the other provinces they really have big problems.
Now I get to the situation of intimidation just to show you how we are living in these two worlds in this country. From the first day that we met them we said to them, "Listen, we will not fire you and we will not call in the police except if there is intimidation and you must please understand that we cannot allow intimidation." And they knew that and at one of our depots, nothing to do with hospitals but to do with roads, but it's the same trade union, they were intimidating. You see the interesting thing is it's the blacks who are striking now, it's not the coloureds, it's the blacks although most of the times the leaders of the trade unions are either white or coloured. They are being paid by the trade unions. They are getting their money. These poor blacks are not being paid. So at one of our road depots there are 500 general assistants, blacks, who are working there, they strike but they came to work every day. They just came and sat and at the office building where the administrative staff is they were working. They were mostly women, mostly coloured and white women working. So after a week or two these blacks said, "Well if we don't work there can't be work for those people in the office." So what they did, they got on to the stoep of this building and they were knocking with their hands against the walls and against the windows and against the doors and they were, as you can imagine, terrifying these girls who were in the office. So we called these people in and said, "Look we have an agreement as far as intimidation is concerned but look what's happening here - these girls are terrified." And do you know what their reaction was? They said, "Well bring us one person who has been injured. Nobody has been injured. There couldn't have been any intimidation, nobody is injured."
You see that proved to me the complexity of the situation. The total different outlook that two people have on the same issue. I sometimes wonder whether the ANC alliance hasn't got that problem within its own ranks, that you have first of all the outlook of men like Thabo Mbeki and many others. In fact I think they are in the majority. It's difficult to fathom. And the more radical group who think that you can still intimidate in whatever manner you do it to get where you want to get.
Another point I want to make is, perhaps I've told you before, in one of my discussions with Thabo Mbeki we talked at length about the future and what's happened in Africa and the fact that we bought time, that we saw what happened in Africa if you don't change if you don't reform in a balanced way. Thabo Mbeki said to me, "You know, I lived in Lusaka for 25 years and I'm sure what happened to that country after colonialism with all its mistakes, when colonialism left, with it left the know-how", and he said we must not allow that in South Africa. Now as far as I am concerned that is a balanced view and I subscribe to that one because that really means that we have to share, we have to share the opportunities, compared to the more radical elements who are prepared to make the same mistakes that Africa made 20 or 30 years ago.
POM Do you think there's a real power struggle going on within the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance for primacy? For example, Jay Naidoo has surfaced, I see him on television every evening. I mean do you see the Mbekis? For the moment they are on the losing side, are they less influential than they were say six months ago?
KM Yes I personally think so and I'm a bit worried about it. But things can change again. It's going to be very interesting to see what happens next week with this mass action. But you see it is so easy really to - if you can intimidate every single minibus not to operate on Monday how on earth will these poor people get to work? It's the easiest thing in the world for you to see to it that people don't go to work, if you can stop them using the trains. Buses, I don't know whether you know, but with the advent of minibuses in the Cape, and for that matter I suppose it's all over the country, the ordinary old bus system has completely collapsed. In fact the big company here has sold out because they see they have no future. Now the point is in the past the bus company was in the hands of a big private company and the buses would run. The minibuses are in the hands of the blacks themselves. They can easily be intimidated. So to summarise, as I see it, certainly it's a struggle within the ranks of the ANC. But I say that as a spectator of their situation. I certainly have no inside knowledge.
POM Do you think that the ANC's trump card in a sense has been the threat of mass mobilisation and of countrywide strikes and the threat of your trump card is always better than having to play it? Once you play it, it may not exactly play the way you expect it to play and I think this mass action could in fact fizzle out, prove to be sustainable for two days and not for a much longer period than that.
KM You see there is the danger for the country, and for us, that it could put us in something very serious. That is a possibility. Although really I would be very surprised if you could achieve it with mass action in South Africa, or for that matter in any of those TBVC states, I really don't think it could happen. On the other hand there is the danger for the ANC alliance that it could fizzle out. Both possibilities are so unnecessary as far as I am concerned. You know I attended again the bush conference last week, I'm not allowed to talk out of that conference but I certainly can say this; the government is so keen and they feel it's so urgent that we must get to a situation, we must get to a new situation because this country cannot afford to carry on fighting itself. If you go below a certain point it's going to be impossible to reach any agreements. So the sooner we can get together the better, and there again I think that is the reason why you have that struggle within the ANC because there is the more radical section which says, "We want to get to a new South Africa on our own. We want to be the sole boss." There is the more conservative clique, Mbeki and other people, who say, "We have to share."
POM But is this not what this deadlock, collapse, whatever you wish to call it, is about? It's about those who think the process is about reaching an arrangement with the sharing of power and those who think it is a process about the transfer of power?
KM Exactly, Patrick. Now, and you can rightly ask, how are we going to get out of that deadlock. Well I think there are certain positive aspects. The one is that more and more blacks are beginning to realise - I mean look at the change in the colour problem, with the group areas, at that stage if you had the coloureds to vote they would vote 95 to 5 against the National Party. The coloureds now say they will vote 76 to side with F W de Klerk. Most of them still don't like the National Party as such but they like F W de Klerk because they see F W de Klerk as a person who can lead South Africa out of its problems and more and more of them are prepared to even wave the flag of the National Party. My own driver was one of the first coloured people to sign up to the National Party. He's got a photograph of himself in front of my car with the registration number PA-1 when he signed up. That was in April last year. The coloured vote has swung completely. Now, as I said, there are more and more blacks who are beginning to realise that it's one thing to shout revolution, to shout revolution and democracy, but they are still without a job and without a house and although they don't like these people and they don't like the government at least there is hope that these people, if we work with them, can achieve something. That is the one thing that really gives me hope. The other thing is the world reaction that really for the first time - I get the impression that the world is not so much on my side but on the side of the negotiators to freedom and that they are interested and in favour of the reform that we want to achieve.
It's difficult, I really don't want you to understand me to be selfish, I have no problem whatsoever to serve under a black President and a black Prime Minister and a black government as long as I'm sure that they will be able to maintain order and that it will not, as you said to which I perfectly agree, that will be the difference between a transfer and a sharing. And when I talk about sharing, that sharing shouldn't be 50/50, it should be 75/25 or whatever.
POM But do you think, this comes down again to the question of trust because my understanding would be that the ANC have no problem with a government of national unity, the first government should be a government of national unity and that they are perhaps willing to share power as long as it is not mandated by the constitution and as long as it is not part of the constitution. The question is, do you think the government can trust the ANC's word that "We'll share power. We've always said we don't want to run South Africa just for blacks and whites should have the same representation", and take their word for it, vis-à-vis saying, "Well that's fine but we may trust you, Mr Mandela, but we may not trust your successor. We prefer to have it written in stone in the constitution."
KM You see, Patrick, the whole history of Africa over the past 40 years proved to us, but that was 20, 30, 40 years ago, when communism was still well and alive and either the Chinese or the Russians supported whomever. Now you can say that that's 40 years ago. Things have changed now but I am afraid it is a matter of trust. How on earth can you in this country at the moment trust a man like Hani or Slovo or Naidoo with their outspoken Marxist reaction? I just find it difficult.
POM So you find the stumbling stone towards development of trust between the ANC per se and the National Party is this alliance between the ANC and the SACP?
KM No doubt about that.
POM If the ANC were somehow to cut that it would open up a lot of other possibilities?
KM I really think, that is my thinking and that is why I keep on trying to make the difference between the more balanced and the radical side of that alliance. I still think, and I hope I'm right, that the more balanced part of that alliance is the bigger one then we would have no problem and what gives me hope is that world reaction against that radicalism is certainly in the favour of negotiations, of a balanced situation. I really don't want to say 'in our favour' because that would be selfish, that would be wrong. But the world opinion is certainly in favour of something which is not Marxism.
POM In politics, as you know well, everything is judged in terms of relative winners and relative losers. Would you have judged the South African government to have been the relative winner at the UN Security Council debate?
KM Yes I would think so. That is the reaction of most South Africans, including the English press, etc. That was the general impression of South Africans. I thought that. I also thought that the impression was that with CODESA, that the average South Africans, including the moderate blacks, were very positive about CODESA and that the whole reaction of the more radical side of the alliance, of mass action, which started a couple of weeks before the second session of CODESA, was aimed to wreck its success. I don't know, I would like to have your view on the United Nations? What is the general reaction?
POM Well I've heard two views. One that the government was the relative winner because first of all it was perhaps the first occasion when South Africa wasn't unanimously condemned in the United Nations as an apartheid state. The resolution was a mild resolution. It urged parties to get back to the negotiating table and there were voices other than the government opposed to the ANC being heard and at the Council it showed that blacks were not a monolith, the ANC were not the sole party for the black community. On the other hand there were those who said more subtly the ANC was the winner because what they had done was they had managed to internationalise the problem in a way where the UN is involved now and they will continue in some peripheral and perhaps growing way to be involved. Two years ago the South African government wouldn't have said to the UN, you're welcome to come in. Now they are saying you're welcome to come in. So the dimensions, the parameters of the problem, have changed slightly.
KM That certainly is so. But that has been so ever since 2nd February 1990.
POM How much time do you have?
KM I'm afraid I only have another five minutes.
POM OK. In terms of power, this is after all a competition for power, do you think the walk-away from CODESA and the mass action strengthens or weakens the relative bargaining position of the ANC when it goes back to negotiations? Or does it strengthen or weaken the government, the game of one-upmanship which is an inherent element of all negotiations?
KM I get the impression that there will be such pressure from the UN and from the world as such that the parties in South Africa will simply have to get back to the negotiating table and it will be done in such a way that nobody really loses face. I certainly didn't get the impression last week at the conference of the Cabinet that they are despondent in the sense that when we go back to the table we will go back with our tails between our legs. But neither do they regard that as being the situation with the ANC. I think they regard it as a hiccup in the negotiating and that we will have to be big enough to come back, and the same applies to the other side.
POM Looking at the process of CODESA, when it began you had reservations about it as a negotiating forum, what do you think are the useful lessons that can be drawn from it by the major parties that will help them to make the next phase of negotiations more successful?
KM I really don't think that you're going to make much progress in open session. I really don't think that we are going to succeed if you have an unwieldy group of 200 or 250 people debating in public with the press. You will either have to get a small group of people to sit down and sort things out and come up with a solution. That is one possibility. The other possibility would be to have an election and to simply say, "Listen we have to test the situation. Let's have an election and put together a Constituent Assembly", and that is another possibility. That is a possibility that wasn't, it was something that the government wasn't very happy with a year or two ago but I do get the impression that as you have seen people change their attitudes, and as you have seen my attitude changing, certainly the government is changing its attitude all the time for better or for worse. That certainly has been its quest to find a solution for South Africa. I told you how at a previous bush conference about two years ago they came up with the idea of forming alliances with other political parties and how one of the senior members of the Cabinet said, "Wonderful idea but it's not good enough. Unless you open the party itself the party will always still be seen as a bastion for apartheid." And at that very meeting within an hour of debate it was decided. Now that gives me hope that the party of F W de Klerk is certainly not starry-eyed or fixed on one view. They are prepared to be very pragmatic about the situation.
POM Mr Botha made a statement several weeks ago now about the National Party being close to being the majority party in the country. Do you remember his saying that? Do you think that's accurate, do the government believe that?
KM I must say I was surprised when I read that. I thought ,"Well this is Pik, he's always an optimist." But I really can't see that at this stage. No, I can see that the National Party with its friends could get 35% of the vote. That's just really a personal feeling at this stage, but even 35% - if I had to give you a figure three years ago I would put it at ... As I told you, there is coloured support for de Klerk today and a lot of the Zulus would probably be prepared to form an alliance and many other blacks would be prepared to do that. If you look at the 19 parties at CODESA at the moment nine side with the ANC and nine side with the government and the DP is still on the fence. So depending on how F W de Klerk handles the situation that 35% could increase and I suppose Pik looked at it in a very hopeful way.
POM I think I told last year and the year before that over the years that I have been coming here, since 1990, and I've talked to many ordinary Africans in the townships and found Mr de Klerk held in very high regard and they would refer to him as Comrade de Klerk. Do you think Boipatong hurt him in the African community? Do you think the ANC engaged on a campaign to more personally associate him with the violence? Mandela has made some extraordinary statements.
KM To summarise that situation I think F W de Klerk really meant it well when he decided to go to Boipatong but his advisers certainly buggered up the whole thing. Blacks are different, you can easily, not intimidate, but get them going, and it is such a pity that FW couldn't go there just on the impulse. It was announced the day beforehand, it was in the press and immediately the ANC said to itself, "Hold on, we can't allow this, we will have to stage something." And it was the easiest thing in the world to spread the message that this is the man who is responsible and we must see to it that this is not a success. That day FW's life was in danger. I spoke to Hernus Kriel the other day, he was with him and it was his decision to move out. FW was still prepared to try and do something but Hernus Kriel realised that the situation was becoming very ugly. So I would think for the moment it certainly was a slap in the face for F W de Klerk, but in the long run as things turned out the government and the police had absolutely nothing to do with it. The roots of that were a few things. The one is the Zulu/Xhosa hate and then small things, it's the hostels, men living there, there are some ladies of not very high repute coming there and one of them was murdered and it was a case of revenge. This is very simply put but I can see a lot of realism in that.
POM So you don't see it as permanently somehow tarnishing De Klerk?
KM No I really don't, but what is very important and we had a meeting yesterday in Pretoria and Leon Wessels said to us, "Listen boys, we are supposed to do the job of the hostels and if Goldstone criticises the government he really criticises us." But you know, Patrick, it's a big problem. Even if the government gives 20 million, what do we do? Fortunately we have very few hostels here in the Cape and fortunately we have no Zulus so I haven't got that sort of problem. Really, I'm very fortunate. But Danie Hough, the Administrator of the Transvaal, said to me, "What do I do if the minister gives me 20 million to do something about the hostels, that KwaMadala Hostel, there are 800 people living there; what can I do to solve the problem tonight? It's impossible." You can fence it but that is not the solution. It must be knocked down. We have, for instance, in a place like Upington, there was a hostel there. Fortunately some time ago we managed to throw those people out and change it to family units and there is no problem. That hostel was at the entrance to the black township. Now you can imagine how dangerous that situation - there again, even at Upington you haven't got the problem with the Zulus and Xhosas. In fact you haven't got any of those there, it's Tswana and they are relatively peace loving. I think even the Xhosas are peace loving as long as they are not upset.
POM One very last question and the two parts are interlinked. You talk about the possibilities of an election. Do you believe in the present climate of violence that one could have free and fair elections in the country at the present moment or do you have to bring the violence under control before you an have an election?
KM Yes, I think it would be very difficult to have fair elections under the present circumstances. That is certainly the first task to get order and stability in the situation before you have elections. But I cannot see how you can have elections, where are we now? End of July, end of the seventh month, my guess would be that we could have elections early next year perhaps, I don't know.
POM What steps would have to be taken in the meantime. If the violence isn't brought under control could you still have elections or must you have peace?
KM If you can't bring it under control, well, I think the doors have been opened now for assistance from outside. It's going to be very interesting to see what, as I have said, to see what happens. And I agree with you there is a big shift of mood. A couple of years ago the attitude of the government was, and the attitude of the far right now is, that we could under no circumstances allow the world to help us to maintain order. But why not? I think everybody should be pushed to get the world to help us to get order and the future is very far changed from what it was. The world understands the situation much better today than three or four years ago. Apartheid was such an easy scapegoat. It was the easiest thing in the world to blame everything on apartheid. But what role has apartheid to play in the violence between Xhosa and Zulu? I really would like someone to explain that to me. Certainly for a long time you will still have the negative results of apartheid, that is true, but if the Zulus and the Xhosas are fighting in the townships, what has that to do with apartheid?
POM Do you think in this sense Buthelezi can play a spoiling role?
KM Let me tell you this, as a final demand from our side, it is so and for that reason I can understand the annoyance of Mandela with Buthelezi, because the same thing happened all over Africa. The last example, classic example, was in fact Mugabe and Nkomo. They hated each other but they simply said ten, twelve years ago, "Let's work together to get Smith out." And they did it and after that they started fighting. Now you can imagine if the Zulus and the Xhosas, and specifically Mandela and Buthelezi, were to decide on a pact to work together and forget about their feud for just a year or two and they would take over and they will then start fighting amongst each other? That would be the typical African recipe. So as far as that is concerned Buthelezi is certainly playing his role. But I see him not spoiling the whole thing, he is saving South Africa from a very, very deep unhealthy situation.
POM That in playing this spoiling role he is, because you think that - ?
KM He's playing the spoiling role to avoid that situation. I think that's his point of view.
POM Because you think that if he and Mandela said, "Let's forget our differences for, let's get rid of the whites."
KM Then they would start fighting for power.
KM Buthelezi says right from the beginning now, "That never worked in Africa. It is much better right from the beginning to try and do the impossible and that is to work together", and in that role he is playing a very important role. That's my opinion.
POM Thank you.